I once thought defeat only a draught for the weak.
It was so easy to see how things should have been, now that they could not be changed. So apparent, my faults, so overwhelming, my derelictions, that a grim smile had crept across my face, at the irony of my haste. One decision had lead to a path of yet more, until there were no decisions left to be made, and only bitter consequences remained to be savored.
"Three," the word slipped out between my sticky sealed lips, and my hands ached at the strength I was demanding of them.
I could not bring myself to bury Alyiss on Orchard Hill, for the trees were always there, and they had no want of a spade's epitaph. She stayed with me for a week. Each morning I would ask for her forgiveness, and not once did she proffer it.
I stepped right, slid forward, extended my blade as if it was my finger, pointed at what I wanted to deface. Ried flew right, as my count reached one; the sun rode his blade in a mercurial flash to my left, as my hatred bored into his shadow.
Our stage had been set, the decisions made.
The sun seemed to burst from the background and hang, sizzling in the air, lighting each rivulet of sweat following each vein on Ried's neck. An orb I could see all sides of at once, all around me. The sound separated from the steel tenderly hating its brother steel, and hung between us, as we preformed for our lives.
Oh, such poor decisions they had been.
A girl's scream echoed from my right, shattering the sound and the light, framing a prison for our dance. A pair of eyes shaking over white knuckles, that in the end, will mean nothing.
The High Council had forgotten its namesake in the waning years after the ultimatum. Some stayed for greed, some stayed for duty, and some forsook all dignity, and followed my path. The strongest of us sullied in the tepid bath of our collective, repulsive weakness. Regardless of our choices, we all did trespass.
Acron was burning. Its buildings still stode, its crops still strained toward the sun, but its daughters did not sing. The voices clasped inside the shadow of my old haven. A silent hymn they all shared weaved endlessly into the night sky, hoping to be heard by the stars that would bring an end to their oubliette, if they could only be heard.
They could not be heard. Fear is the loudest music. Echoing off fretful stares and whispered secrets, until it gathered the deafening power of a thousand rivers, and the presence of a tomb.
I ducked low, seeming to fold beneath the scythe of Ried's blade. I had used my knees and not my waist, allowing my to stand and loom close into the slave knight, holding my hilt back at my hip, and guiding its point with my other hand. If Ried was scared, he did not show it, instead twisting in an elegant snap, while grabbing his own blade like a staff, hilt offered to heaven.
My thrust was turned away, but Ried's balance was on the wrong part of the off foot, and my balance could not change course as my shoulder slammed, crunching into the plate cuirass.